It was one of these days … I’m in bed trying to sleep because I just want it to finish.
Last minute preparations. Collecting our German speakers and supporters from the airport. A stroll and dinner through town. Flights delayed. Everybody making a huge effort to be there tomorrow, to make sure that our voices will be heard. Shouting from the rooftops: enough is enough, no more, no more, no more being considered to be on death row, sent to the nursing homes where people who have lived their lives are waiting for it to end. No more waiting, no more hoping that someone, someone must surely see that here are our young sons and daughters and partners and brothers and sisters with a life ahead of them, a life, a life, a life worth living, a life worth fighting for, not the life they had before, not the life they had planned or imagined, sure who would ever imagine having such a catastrophic accident and injury, but a life nonetheless, a life with good days and bad days, but a life together, a life with food, drink, wind in your hair and rain on your skin, with good smells and bad smells, with really good music, and exciting adventures.
Tomorrow will be the first day of the An Saol Project.
It will change Pádraig’s life and that of others like him. It has to. There is no option, no plan B.
See you tomorrow!
It’s in the sticks. In the middle of nowhere. Nothing like cows, birds singing, and insects taking over the world. Shocking connectivity and almost no sgnal even for the phone. Bad for stressed out city folks who probably would get near a nervous breakdown because their interweb-world could go belly up and they wouldn’t even find out.
We were here before after the accident, for a short visit. This time we’ll be staying for the night – another first! More tomorrow from a proper laptop with a proper keyboard. In the meantime we’ll be enjoying what remains of a really nice sunny Saturday afternoon and a real quiet night.
I’ve just finished reading an amazing article on ‘sustainable’ banking or, as Peter Blom of Triodos Bank calls it with an ironic undertone, ‘Bio-Banking’. I’ve also just filled in the 2013 MIT Sloan Management Review & BCG Sustainability Survey. Both convinced me that sustainability is not just something for ‘do-gooders’, social revolutionaries, or members of the green parties around the world anymore. Sustainability is going mainstream.
Check out Triodos Bank’s website and read up on their commitment to the environment: “Triodos Bank believes that profit doesn’t need to be at the expense of the world’s most pressing environmental problems”; social change: “We finance work to improve and enrich the lives of millions of people; tackling inequality and injustice. And developing strong communities in the process”; and culture: “Triodos Bank believes that culture is a powerful force for positive change, driving creativity and innovation in business, and providing lasting opportunities for personal development”.
What is even more amazing, the bank’s chief, Peter Blom, earns ‘just’ 272,000 euro (this is small change for big bankers), it has 440,000 clients, and attracts 10,000 new clients every month. The bank’s clients not only see but also control where the bank invests: it is completely transparent.
An isolated case? Here is another example: Have you heard about Oekom? Two youngsters founded this rating agency at the end of the 90s in a backyard office in Munich. Today, they receive invitations from big financial institutions to talk about human rights violations, environmental protection, and sustainable investment. Oekom, unlike its competitors Moody’s or Standards & Poor, doesn’t focus on credit ratings, but rates more than 3,000 companies and 51 countries on their commitment to ecological and social principles. 520 billion euro is invested based on their recommendations worldwide!
They are not alone. Did you know that a fifth of global capital investment, or 13 trillion US dollars, is invested based on social, ecological, and ethical criteria? Did you know that this investment achieves returns that are 11% better than to the world stock index MSCI World (formerly Morgan Stanley Capital International)?
Interesting, you might say, but what has all this got to do with the language industry?
There is a lesson here for us in the language industry, an industry that sees itself driven by continuous and growing demands for efficiency, for ‘better, faster, cheaper’, an industry where money is king – an industry that to a large extent doesn’t seem to have noticed yet, never mind reacted to, some of the biggest challenges and changes in society and business: the move towards social responsibility and sustainability.
Signs of what one could call, following Peter Blom’s example, ‘bio-lingualism’ amongst commercial providers are hard to spot. Instead, Machine Translation (MT) continues its long relationship with military interventions and the cold wars. (LOGOS received a great boost during the Vietnam War; METAL during the Cold War; SYSTRAN still receives huge investments from the military.) Industry associations fight over access to conference venues in Washington when the conflicts in the Middle East heat up. Researchers in large government funded localisation research projects are not shy to promote partnerships with online gaming companies. – Many in the language industry still sell out too easily to the highest bidder. No matter what.
The few non-profit players in the language industry report (this is based on anecdotal evidence) that they don’t mention their non-profit interests or status to their clients anymore – because these clients, apparently, don’t take non-profit businesses seriously. To my knowledge, there is only one commercial provider, Alboum, which focuses on “translation services for non-profit organizations”. Another company, InEveryLanguage, is proud to promote itself as “the socially responsible way to meet your translation needs”. Mondragón Lingua operates on cooperative principles and has a strong commitment to social responsibility. Many companies offer, as a special service, translations to non-profits, some for free or at discounted rates, among them TransPerfect, ABC Translation Services, Morningside Translations, ITC Global Translations, Lionbridge, SDL, and Welocalize.
What is the alternative to a primarily profit-driven language services business and research, at the expense of ethical and social considerations? Why on earth should we promote sustainable language services?
Well, a large number of studies have demonstrated that there is a clear causal connection between languages, and the environment, health, and education, as well as with social and economic well-being of people; the connection between bio-diversity and language diversity has also long been established. If we care about sustainable energy, the environment, and health – we need to care about sustainable language services, driven primarily by ethical, ecological, and social considerations, rather than by profit. The financial services sector has given us the examples that sustainable services are also financially more profitable. (I have reported elsewhere on findings that the non-profit sector also generates more employment than the for-profit sector.)
While language service companies are slow to react, thousands of language service volunteers are now investing their time and expertise in sustainable translation services with organisations such as Mozilla, TED, and the Khan Academy, but also with initiatives like PerMondo, Translators without Borders, Translations for Progress, and – of course my personal first choice – The Rosetta Foundation’s Translation Commons (www.trommons.org). This site is powered by SOLAS, an open source software project coordinated by The Rosetta Foundation.
Friends and colleagues in the language communities: Is it not time to invest in social localisation? I mean, really invest! To sow the seeds and reap the benefits – together, in a sustainable bio-lingual language industry, for the benefit of the people and our one, shared world? Investing in sustainable bio-lingualism is a risk worth taking!
This blog was inspired by Böll, S. and Hese, M. (2013). Finanzindustrie: Aufstieg der Bio-Banker, in: Der Spiegel, 22/2013, 27 May 2013 (69-72).
More information on the financial institutions mentioned:
Triodos Bank http://www.triodos.com
Oekom Research http://www.oekom-research.com
MSCI World http://www.msci.com
More about the link between biodiversity and language diversity:
Penn State (2012, May 7). Endangered species, languages linked at high biodiversity regions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 4, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2012/05/120507154112.htm.
UNESCO BIP (Biodiversity Indicators Partnership): Status of traditional knowledge, innovations and practices Status and Trends of Linguistic Diversity and Numbers of Speakers of Indigenous Languages (available at http://www.bipindicators.net/linguisticdiversity, last accessed 04 June 2013); Note: this article has a large number of links to related studies investigating the link between language and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity.
Barriers to language services are breaking down. Commercial language services are complemented by massive community-driven service contributions. Communicating in your own language with fellow citizens throughout the world no longer depends purely on an economic rationale. This significantly contributes to equality, inclusion, and the realization of a fundamental and universal human right: the right to use one’s own language.
‘Language barriers’ never existed—languages are not barriers that we need to overcome, they are one of humanity’s treasures, and they allow us to express who we are and communicate with our fellow citizens. Instead, we are knocking down the barriers that so far have prevented us from accessing language services that would allow equal communication across languages. We have a right to read or to listen, to write or to speak in each of our unique and beautiful languages, and to be able to communicate with our fellow global citizens without depending on economic considerations. Tens of thousands of volunteers have already started to rock ‘n roll, to shake up the status quo, to do the ‘impossible’—to provide high quality, human language services on a large scale 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and all that without a profit motive!
We have demonstrated our power to expand beyond the profit motive and allow broader and more comprehensive accessibility to languages services.
We use technology to support our efforts rather than allow technology to determine the way we work. There is no doubt that our efforts will lead to a level of equality and inclusion never experienced before, creating a sense of pride, confidence, and energy that will empower people to lift themselves out of poverty, ignorance, and dependence. The global connections that people are establishing with others are uniting the planet and will significantly contribute to making killing fields, hunger epidemics, curable diseases, intolerable poverty, and endemic illiteracy history. Instead, these connections will lead to a better mutual understanding, to an unseen exchange of knowledge and information, and to social and economic opportunities we cannot even imagine today.
While top-down localisation efforts empower corporate globalisation, bottom-up localisation efforts expand and widen access to languages services. Combined, they address all of our cross-language communication needs. They will create a force that makes localisation accessible to all in the form and context that best suits their needs.
Let us connect our efforts and collaborate on the Translation Commons—the space where communities offer and find non-market-driven language services. Let’s work together to expand language services beyond a solely economic rationale. We, and our languages, are worth it!
Language Service Providers of the World—Unite!
The Translation Commons
The Translation Commons (www.trommons.org) is an open space for communities to offer and seek free language services. The site is powered by SOLAS technologies, an open source project by The Rosetta Foundation. The project has received funding by private, corporate, and public donors and contributors. Do you share our vision and passion? Then we want to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Tuesday, 16 March 2013, four friends got together at GALA 2013, the Globalization and Localization Association’s Conference, to present a panel on Spotlight on Africa: Business Opportunities in the World’s Fastest Growing Markets to the assembled localisation business community. I introduced Dwayne Bailey of Translate (South Africa), Tunde Adegbola of Alt-i (Nigeria), Solomon Gizaz of FOSS Africa, the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa, (Ethiopia), and the Localisation Research Centre (Ireland). We wanted to bring the message home to the western business community that Africa was not in need of a ‘mission’ to save it from falling off the cliff (a term much more familiar these days in the context of the US economy) but rather that it is ready to form partnerships with the most innovative and energetic businesses from around the world.
Africa is not only the birthplace of humanity but also the birthplace of human language. Today, it is one of the most linguistically diverse places on earth, with between two and three thousand languages spoken natively (although 75% of Africans speak one of the top twelve). Africans are truly multilingual—it is not uncommon for people to speak their mother tongue at home, a regional African language like Swahili when communicating with neighbours, and one of the colonial languages with non-natives.
Over the past year or so, Africa has featured prominently on the covers of both Time Magazine and The Economist under the headline ‘Africa Rising.’ Over the past decade, six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries were African. In eight of the past ten years, Africa has grown faster than East Asia, including Japan. With 600 million mobile phone users, Africa has overtaken America and Europe. Africa’s GDP will grow by 900 per cent, topping out at $15 trillion by 2060 – that’s a shade bigger than the current GDP of the United States.
Oprah Winfrey’s US$3 billion fortune makes her the wealthiest black person in America. But she is no longer the richest black person in the world. This is now Aliko Dangote, the Nigerian cement king. Although people criticize him that he is too close to the political classes, his US$10 billion fortune is earned, not expropriated.
While Dublin bus drivers have to give change in the form of a paper receipt that is redeemable only at the central office (where in the world???), in Nairobi, busses have NFC (Near Field Communication) technology that wirelessly transfers funds from your mobile phone in seconds: no delay, no cash, no change, and you just pay the correct fare.
The following is an extract from the conversation we had during the panel session, in which we talk about the work that is going on in the language industry in Africa, the opportunities for collaboration with the West, and the roadblocks that sometimes make this collaboration difficult.
Reinhard: Could you briefly describe the work you are doing?
Dwayne: Translate focuses on helping companies to localise using their communities. We draw on our experience and the technologies we built to localise open-source products into South African languages and use that to assist organisations like Mozilla to localise their products such as Firefox, to help Evernote, LibreOffice, Apache, and others.
Tunde: We develop infrastructural, human, intellectual, and other resources required for the active use of modern ICT in African languages. This we do by training researchers, producing knowledge, and developing software and hardware, as well as localising software with the objective of making modern ICT usable in our local languages.
Solomon: I am doing a PhD in the Localisation Research Center at the University of Limerick.
Reinhard: What is the most important issue you are trying to address with your work (and what would you like to achieve with it)?
Dwayne: Helping people who speak the long tail (and not so long tail) languages to localise products. In that way, enabling them to ensure that their language remains relevant in the digital age. Because, to be honest, if languages are not present in platforms that enable the modern world, then they are languages of curiosity and not viable in the long term. We want to see languages play a vibrant part in the digital world. We’re achieving that by helping language speakers achieve that by helping our clients reduce the cost of supporting the localisation into these languages.
Tunde: Technology provides facilities to jump some of the natural communication hurdles presented by multilingualism and illiteracy, but we have to work at it to make it useful.
Solomon: I am building a technology framework to integrate personalisation into localisation.
Reinhard: Do you believe that the ‘West’ understands what is going on in Africa, how people in Africa work, what they need? What can the ‘West’ learn from Africa; what can Africa bring to the people?
Dwayne: Hard one to call. I think there are people from the West who really do understand Africa. But the biggest risk is that if you don’t, it is unlikely that any African will explain that to you. You’ll be left wondering why you just can’t seem to make it happen. Africa really is a multilingual space, while sometimes the West thinks of multilingual as a collection of monolingual silos. In Africa we’re dealing with many languages at the same time. Think pain x N. We’re also dealing with high language skills and low technology skills and producing software that brings sophisticated tech in a low-tech way.
Tunde: Just as Africa misunderstands the West, the West usually gets it really wrong when engaging Africa. The key is to accept the deep cultural differences and enter partnerships on mutually beneficial terms.
Solomon: Yes and No. Yes, because they at least attempt to do something. No, because the approach needs some improvement that considers the reality in Africa.
Reinhard: What are the biggest opportunities in Africa today?
Dwayne: 2 billion users. With smartphones rewriting how we think of computers, and with some amazing innovations in Africa we’re faced with a growing market for localisation.
Tunde: Having missed out on many of the opportunities of the Industrial Age, Africa requires mutually beneficial partnerships that will help it take advantage of the offerings of the Information Age.
Solomon: There are many potential customers, a huge population that demands to get information in their own language; the West can use this demand to provide services the African way.
Reinhard: What needs to happen to grasp them?
Dwayne: Find a good partner and an opportunity to build trust, skills, and relationships for the future.
Tunde: Building partnerships.
Solomon: Two things: as there are few professionals, many people will require training. And: any collaboration should happen with the community as a whole, in their language, not just with a few professionals who are comfortable to use western languages.
I’ll end my short report from our conversation at GALA here. We all felt that this was only a start, the beginning of a long-lasting dialogue and collaboration.
A final word – this time on real action: Late last year, the University of Limerick and the UN Economic Commission for Africa were joined by GALA and The Rosetta Foundation for the launch of the AGIS (Action for Global Information Sharing) Africa Initiative. The plan is to roll out UL’s MSc in Multilingual Computing and Localisation in Africa with a base at UNECA in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). GALA has enthusiastically supported the initiative and will provide students with internships and business mentors. Dwayne, Tunde, and Solomon will all be involved in the preparation and the delivery of the programme. We all very much look forward to our collaboration and will keep you posted on progress.
Remember, Africa is not a country, but a continent of fifty-five states. We don’t need to go on a mission to rescue this continent from the abyss. We need to collaborate with our African friends and colleagues. This is about partnership and exchange, we’ll be ‘on the road’ together for some time to come – learning from each other, working very hard, going far beyond of what we can imagine today, and having lots of fun!
Should you wish to find out more about the AGIS Africa initiative and join in the journey, the fun, and the hard work, go towww.localisation.ie/AGISAfrica or email email@example.com
Information about the economic development in Africa was sourced from The Economist, 03 December 2011, African Development Bank 10/2011, and Time Magazine 03 December 2012